Leeds United AFC: Reflection…

You may find yourself promoted to Division Two…
And you may find yourself fearing a relegation battle…
And you may find yourself exceeding all expectations…
And you may find yourself in 5th place, with just 8 games to go…
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”…

The International break would appear to have come at just the right time for the players of Leeds United AFC. It also gives the support chance to catch our breath & reflect on the season thus far. It has been a weirdly unpredictable season in parts & we left Sheffield with heavy hearts, discussing the theory that the side had perhaps peaked. We despaired at just 5 wins in 16 league games since the demolition of QPR & we shook our heads at the ongoing defensive Achilles Heel. We questioned the erratic transfer policy & of course, cursed what felt like missed opportunities at every turn in the battle for a Play Off place. Frankly, there were no excuses for the sides performance & the manner of the defeat, but were we in danger of losing sight of how far the boys have come?

After all, lets not forget that this time last year we were in the midst of deep depression, with 4 defeats on the trot compounding a woeful second half of the season that threatened to keep the Whites marooned in Division Three for another year. All things being taken into account, a sense of perspective was perhaps required after the sorriest performance of the season. Looking back, many began the season with just one mission, that of “Survival in Division Two”. 5 games in & the Whites appeared comfortable in our new surroundings, recording 3 wins, 1 draw & 1 defeat. At that point, only 5 goals had been conceded, however it was clear that the defence had issues. The fingers of blame swung first at Bessone, before Naylor was written off by many of the faithful…

An injury to Kasper then saw Higgs step into the Dane’s impressive shoes. However, in a somewhat humbling period, the number 2 keeper was to pick the ball out of the net 13 times in 5 games, with 5 going past him in the shocking defeat at Barnsley. Yet 2 clean sheets later, the Whites appeared back on track & the 1-0 win over the Blades even raised expectations. However, 4 defeats in 5 soon put paid to any lofty aspirations. The poor run began with the 4-6 mauling at home to Preston & by the time the 4th Cardiff goal went in, you would have been hard pushed to find anyone backing the Whites for anything other than a 4th bottom finish. In the face of growing depression, Grayson rallied his troops & with the aid of a formation change, oversaw an unbeaten run of 12 league games…

Yes it was fortunate at times & Yes, the defence remained an issue. However, the players confidence began to rise with each passing game & in turn, we began to realise that we had little to fear in this league. The run included the stunning win at Burnley & that convincing win over league leaders QPR. The unbeaten streak came to an end at Cardiff in the week leading up to that mighty display in Arsenals back yard. That FA Cup draw prompted fears of a hangover, but the boys went on to beat Scunthorpe 4-0 without breaking sweat. It boosted the Whites Play Off  hopes, whilst also pointing towards this being the season that the boys could avoid the recent good / bad “half season” pattern. The club then began the attacking the Transfer Window with intent…

Becchio was convinced to sign a new deal, before we secured loanee O’Brien permanently. However, other than to re:loan McCartney, the transfer charge stopped there, despite all clubs around us adding to their armoury. It was feared that the club would eventually pay for what appeared scant investment by January 31st. Still, with 2 Premier league defenders now in the back 4, it was hoped that the defensive Achilles Heel would finally be addressed. Sadly, that didn’t happen, but after Arsenal eased to victory in the Elland Road replay, the Whites set about another unbeaten league run with a “We can outscore anyone” mentality. It almost worked, but didn’t & 2 point dropping draws would leave the faithful tearing their hair out. The club then recorded its first back to back clean sheet wins since September…

The win at Bristol ensured the Whites were safe in Division Two, thus completing our first mission. In truth, there had been little danger of relegation since Christmas. However, with our defence, no one was counting any chickens. Sadly, any hope that the defence was now magically cured was short lived as 8 goals in 3 games later, we left Swansea after being out thought, out scored & out played. Many feared the season was in danger of peaking too soon, with fans not sure if to feel relief or to begin to brand the season a damp squib. Yet a week is a long time in football & 2 wins, combined with the capture of loan star Barry Bannan, left us again in spitting distance of the top of the table. At the same time, the points gained were cementing the club in the Play Offs…

The goalless draw with Ipswich that followed was by no means fatal & we headed to Bramall Lane in good heart. It was there we witnessed the Whites beaten by a side who can’t have had many easier games all season. Grayson acted swiftly in the aftermath, though he clearly believes that kamikaze defending is the only way of entertaining the masses & thought against bringing in a new centre half. Instead, after farming out Nunez & Clayton (again), he brought in another loan midfielder in Jake Livermore. Perhaps not the defensive midfielder we had hoped & it will be interesting to see where Livermore fits into the side. Many expect Johnson to be the player who makes way, however, Howson’s injury may just give the transfer listed midfielder a stay of execution…

So, that’s where we are at, the question is, what now? Are the side running out of steam or was the Blades defeat just an off day? How would we feel if the Play Off’s slip out of our legendary “Careless Hands”? On paper, the 8 game run in is as hard as it could be & after spurning chance after chance to address the defence, we can assume that the school boy defending is not going to change. With that in mind, that 4 point gap may not provide enough protection if we continue to fire blanks at the other end. However, before we write ourselves off, we can at least take heart in the way that the boys have previously responded to defeat this season & we have to go back to October to see back to back defeats (Kiss of Death!). Many feel Grayson also needs to utilise his squad more…

Popular opinion points towards Watt & Somma getting more time on the pitch. At the same time, the manager must figure out how to bring Snoddy back into the kind of form that earned his Scotland call up. As for the Play Off’s, well lets be honest, even after achieving the main aim of the season, to miss out now would be gutting. You can not afford to stand still in football & there is no telling when the chance may come round again. After all, who would have predicted a Play Off Final appearance in 2006 would result in relegation a season later? Of course, there is the small matter of 8 games before we can really give them much thought, but many are already filled with dread just at the prospect of making the Play Off’s & of course, history points the way on this one…

However, amongst the gloom surrounding the words “Play Offs”, there is another thought process knocking around. It’s one that suggests that, should we make it this time, we enter the games with a different mindset & try to enjoy them, after all, we didn’t expect to be there in the first place. In theory, this should take the kind of pressure we saw placed on the last 3 attempts, lifted off the shoulders of the players & allow them the chance to express themselves with no fear. Of course, that would depend on the players turning up on the day & even then, theory is one thing, putting it into practice is another. However, it could just be a cunning plan & one that might just work Baldrick, with little to lose if it doesn’t…

So, as the Leeds United AFC rollercoaster kicks back into life, only time will tell if this Easter will be a time of resurrection or crucifixion. However, buckle up & keep your fingers crossed that the boys can begin the run in on a positive note, one way or another, it could be one hell of a ride…

Leeds United AFC…”Here comes the twister”… Keep Fighting…

Youtube clips with thanks to GIBBO024 & EALDRETT

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Posted March 29, 2011 by keepfighting in leeds united, Uncategorized

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